The Minnesota Twins have spent the last couple seasons building a strong farm system. The dividends are starting to pay out. Unfortunately, one of the prime prospects to contribute this season, Miguel Sano, had or is having Tommy John surgery and is likely out for the season. Sano is a future star, who would likely have hit 20-30 HR in his rookie campaign. The potential production and that of top overall MLB prospect Byron Buxton were expected to give the team a boost. In fact, that was part of the reason the Twins went out and signed free agent RHPs Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes and brought back RHP Mike Pelfrey. The thought was if they could get decent starting pitching, then offensively they can be ok. The loss of Sano hurts and all but eliminates the chances of the Twins being a sleeper team this season.
The Twins traded catcher Ryan Doumit to the Braves in exchange for a minor league pitcher. Joe Mauer moving to 1B should put him up there with the most productive 1B in all of MLB. I am not joking. Having the chance to play 150+ games will allow Mauer to show his hitting prow less; something that he was he held back slightly having to squat down behind the plate for all those seasons.
The starting rotation will consist of returnees Pelfrey (5-13, 5.19 in 29 starts) and Correia (9-13, 4.18, 31 starts). The addition of Nolasco (13-11, 3.70 in 33 starts for Miami and Los Angeles) and Hughes (4-14, 5.19 in 24 starts for Yankees) will provide some leadership and hopefully a dependable 6 innings of work a start. Returning starters Sam Duduno (8-8, 3.18 in 18 starts) and Scott Diamond (6-13, 5.43 in 24 starts) will battle or the 5th spot in the rotation. However, I like the chances of RHP Vance Worley (1-5, 7.21 in 10 starts) and Kyle Gibson (2-4, 6.83 in 10 starts) better since both have higher ceilings than Duduno and Diamond. However it works out, I expect the Twins to have a better starting staff than last season. It could not be much worse. In addition to Gibson, keep an eye on RHPs Alex Meyer, Trevor May and 2013 1st round draft pick Kohl Stewart, all of whom could be at the MLB level by season's end. However, with the veteran pitchers they have signed, the goal is to allow them all to develop down in the minor leagues.
The bullpen should be very good season, led by one of the most underrated closers in all of MLB Glen Perkins. Perkins (2-0, 36 saves, 2.30, 77 Ks in 62 2/3 IP) should have some help getting him the ball led by Jared Burton (2-9, 3.82 in 71 games), Brian Duensing (6-2, 3.98 in 73 games) and Anthony Swarzak (3-2, 2.91 in 48 games).
There are a couple of interesting options for the Twins in their bullpen. First there is RHP Deolis Guerra, a pitcher obtained from the New York Mets in the Johan Santana trade who has yet to pitch in the majors. He is a minor league invitee looking to crack the big club. Also there is Matt Guerrier, a RHP who enjoyed the most success of his young career pitching for the Twins. It would be nice to see one or both of them break camp with the club.
I strongly feel this will be a huge season for Mauer who hit .324, 11, 47 in 103 games last year. The thought of him playing 150 games should increase the level of expected productivity. Buxton coming up sooner than later will make the lineup strong, with Josh Willingham (.208, 14, 48) and 3B Trevor Plouffe (.254, 14, 52) expected to put up better numbers than last year. Projected starting 2B Brian Dozier (.244, 18, 66) had a good season and even SS Pedro Florimon, known for his defense, did alright (.221, 8, 44). The team signed veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki (.232, 5, 32 with Washington and Oakland last season), who along with Chris Herrmann will get a lot of time behind the plate. CF Alex Presley (.283, 1, 11 in 28 games), acquired in the trade that sent Justin Morneau to the Pirates, will be the starting CF until Buxton is ready. Aaron Hicks is expecting to see some time as well. Rounding out the bench will be Chris Collabello, Eduardo Escobar and Oswaldo Arcia.
In on a minor league contract with a big league camp invite is 2B Doug Bernier. Doug was a guest on the Passed Ball Show this year and is 33 years old. It would be nice to see him get a shot and maybe be a Jamey Carroll type of player of the bench.
The Twins finished 2013 with a 66-96 record under manager Ron Gardenhire. I was ready to pick them to do a little better but the Sano injury is making it tough. Las Vegas has their number at 70. I see an improvement but cannot take the over. My prediction is 67-95, last place in the AL Central.